By, Isam Itson III
Philippians 2:5-7 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
There are so many voices calling for peace, love, and unity across social, cultural, ethnic, and racial divides. But, how do we get there? While teaching at the Calvary Chapel Bible College in the southern Philippines for just over three years, I spent over three quarters of my waking life with the locals immersed in their world.
About two years in, I was hosting some short term building contractors for dinner at one of our nicest local restaurants. You could order some western dishes that you would like if you had been in the country for a while, but the best dishes on the menu were Filipino. While enjoying our dinner we overheard a Western tourist complaining about her hamburger and one of my dinner guests commented, “That’s why wherever you go, you eat what they eat.”
Everything we need to know about building relationships across cultural and social divides in one simple statement. Eat what they eat. Engage with people with an attitude of openness, acceptance, goodwill, gratitude, and trust. Willingly set aside our preferences and habits and embrace their way of life. Voluntarily live with and among them. Celebrate with them. Listen to their stories. Ask investigative questions. Participate, learn, struggle, grow, and enjoy. Only then can we see ourselves and each other more clearly and evaluate our different views of life more honestly, humbly, and genuinely in light of the gospel. That binding of our hearts across cultural, ethnic, linguistic, social, economic, and national divides adds a breadth and depth to our lives and awareness of the virtues and shortcomings of our own way of life that is enriching beyond category.
This is what the Son of God did. He emptied himself of his glory for our sake in obedience to the Father. Have you ever thought about what it was like for the eternal Son of God to set aside his glory in heaven and embrace life with us on this earth? He was the Only Begotten Son of God who eternally shared the glory and love of the Father in a perfect, harmonious and uninterrupted relationship.
The Son shared in the light and life of the Father and completed the eternal love of the Father, from always and forever. The Son existed in a boundless, eternal, and glorious, relationship of light, life, and love, with God the Father.
The Eternal Son of God shared in the Father’s glory as ruler over creation: the source and authority of all light, life, wisdom, and order in the created universe. The Son received ALL glory and praise with the Father from ALL of the hosts of heaven, in perfect submission to God the Father. That was the eternal, perfect, righteous life of the Eternal Son of God in relationship to God the Father and creation. Yet he did not consider his honor and privilege as something to be grasped or forcibly held onto.
The Son voluntarily set aside his rights and privileges as God by taking the form of a slave. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul equates being a human with being a servant. The word translated servant in verse seven is actually the greek word for slave.
A slave serves someone else’s agenda. They are dedicated to someone else’s purpose. They are vessels of someone else’s honor. Their gifts, talents, and energies enrich another. Being a slave means their feelings are irrelevant, and only the master’s will matters.
This is a whole new world for the eternal Son of God, now, Jesus of Nazareth. From heaven to earth, to the cross. From everlasting light, life, wisdom and glory, to a world plagued by chaos, death and darkness. From worshipped and honored to overlooked, discounted, and dishonored… by his own choice, in response to the Father’s purpose of restoring our relationship with God. Jesus humbled himself, as an instrument of God’s purpose, for our sake.
As we pursue more harmonious relationships across social, economic, racial, and cultural divides in the church, we have to be willing to set aside our rights, privileges, and preferences as necessary. This willingness is key to serving as faithful representatives of God’s love for all of the people of the world revealed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Many of us talk about being open to people from different cultural, social, and ethnic backgrounds but we rarely enter their lives. We commit no regular time to being in their world on their terms. Most of us want them to adjust their way of life to ours. I am not challenging us to make an Olympian level commitment. I am encouraging us to plan, prepare, and make consistent time to nurture individual relationships with people across cultural divides.
If we are willing to humbly admit our initial ignorance and incompetence, we can begin enjoying the privilege of learning and growing in relationship to the different people around us for the rest of our lives. Start slow. Read online articles and books that provide instruction on interpersonal communication. Learn about cross cultural communication. Practice what you learn. Go to a coffee shop or restaurant in a different part of town than you normally frequent.
Get to know your coworkers as individuals and allow them to get to know you. Learn their history on their terms. Embrace and push through the initial disorientation and discomfort of spending time with people who don’t look at the world in the same way as you. Listen and learn. Engage, assess, and re-engage. Or, we can keep talking about the benefits and necessity of embracing people across social, cultural, and economic divides, while we keep watching them on our screens from within our own comfortable, isolated, and uninformed frames of reference.
If we do embrace the joy of persistent and committed engagement with them for ourselves, until their perspective becomes a part of our own, and we become a part of them and they become a part of us, then we can begin seeing where the life of Jesus Christ touches them in their current situation. The Son of God was willing to set his position and privilege aside to become one with us and to eat what we eat for our sake. Are we willing to do the same for the sake of others in his name, no matter the cost?
1. What personality traits, personal achievements, activities, and/or possessions are you known for, or proud of?
2. Which of your answers would you be willing to walk away from in order to honor God’s love for a stranger in need?
3. How can you regularly enter the world of someone who is socially or economically different from you without leaving your own city or town?